Is there a name for the use of symbols in place of curse words, for example #$@&%*!?

  • 91
    That's the best ☠@✴#ing question title I've ever seen.
    – naught101
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 4:39
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    Not to be outdone by the special interest groups and their pretentious little dictionaries of coined terms that they would be delighted if the rest of the world adopted (see the various answers below), I hereby propose: depletives, a portmanteau of deleted expletives.
    – Kaz
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 7:09
  • 9
    Ah, maledicta. That brings me way back. When I graduated from high school, I was the maledictorian. :)
    – Kaz
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 7:10
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    Another proposition: these are not exactly dirty words, but usually the order of the characters depends on a particular keyboard layout, hence we might call them qwerty words.
    – Kaz
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 7:13
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    @Kaz: The order certainly disagrees with my keyboard layout. Also, I tend to arrange them "meaningfully", e.g. $#!+
    – Jonas
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 14:54

7 Answers 7


I found the term "grawlixes" here: The Lexicon of Comicana.

Typographical symbols standing for profanities, appearing in dialogue balloons in place of actual dialogue.

I also came across the terms "profanitype" and "symbol swearing." I think I like "grawlixes" best.

  • 7
    tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SymbolSwearing also uses "graxlixes", and also "profanitype".
    – naught101
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 5:33
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    @naught101 Oh for grawlixes' sake, don't link to tvtropes. There goes my evening... Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 18:07
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    Grawlix won't work. Just Google it and you'll see why. Profanitype works but sounds and looks too much like stereotype, even though "-type" is supposed to relate to typewriting. Zairja has the answer(s): Bleep is not a name for !@#$%^&* but rather a spoken equivalent of it, as is blankety-blank (my substantive contribution to this thread). The winner, so far: Obscenicon. (Good going, Zairja!) Commented Oct 17, 2012 at 0:04
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    @HStephenStraight Can you elaborate on why Grawlix won't work? I didn't find any google hit that did not confirm this. Although the meaning of Obscenicon is probably easier to guess without prior knowledge... Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 12:34

These have also been called obscenicons. Several links on Language Log offer an in-depth look at their usage.

More on the early days of obscenicons
Obscenicons a century ago

The "word" represented by the symbols could be pronounced bleep:

So people came up with a small set of conventional euphemistic readings for <expletive suppressed>: "bleep", "bleeping", "bleepity-bleep", "blankety-blank", and so on. Of these, "bleep" seems to have pretty much won out, as (again) Geoff noted in his first posting. And, indeed, the IMDB lists the movie What the #$! Do We Know!?* as What the Bleep Do We Know!? So there now is a conventional way for pronouncing the name of the movie.

You might refer to such symbols as "bleeps" though YMMV.


These can also be called swear symbols or curse symbols, as evidenced by this quote:

But I enjoy the opportunity to use swear symbols.
(Daniel Clowes, Cartoonist)

Those terms are not as cool as the word grawlix, but they are still in the vernacular, and thus worthy of a mention.


I've always heard and referred to this as "comic cursing" in the US Northeast, but I can't find a citation and also haven't discussed this particular topic very often.


Comics artists sometimes call them grawlixes and sometimes "swear symbols". Their use is referred to as "symbol swearing".

The closest way to duplicate their effect in speech is to bleep (electronically if you've the means, or just making a bleep dound), since such bleeps serve the same purpose with audible speech in television or radio, as they do in print.


I've always known it as symbolic substitution — but have no idea where I learned the phrase. Interestingly enough, the English language contains more descriptive words than any other language — completely negating the need for symbolic substitution in the first place.

Another word I've seen used for it is symtax, but I prefer symbolic substitution because it is self explanatory by definition.

  • 9
    Citation needed for "the English language contains more descriptive words than any other language". What is a "descriptive word" anyway?
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 9:10
  • @RegDwigнt, it is a member of that class of words of which the English language contains more than any other language.
    – LSpice
    Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 23:27

Redactions? It would be more typical to use a verb — such as saying that the swear words had been censored or redacted.

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    That would usually imply something more like blacking out, or crossing off.
    – naught101
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 22:50

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